Memories Encoded in DNA and Biological Reliques

Margherita Pevere bacterial cellulose bioart

Margherita Pevere is an artist that uses living organisms to explore our relationship with nature and technology, and our obsession with preserving information.

Margherita Pevere is an artist fascinated by the connection between humans and nature, and how the pervasive introduction of technology into all aspects of our lives is affecting this relationship. Her work puts living organisms and technology in the spotlight to incite the debate over where our “hyper-technological era” is headed.

One of the areas where technology could have a big impact in the coming years is information storage. Particularly, using DNA as a medium with a massive storage capacity is gaining a lot of attention. In her ongoing project Semina Aeternitatis, Pevere started exploring this concept by documenting the memories of visitors with the intention of transcribing the resulting text into DNA sequences and encoding it into the genome of Gluconacetobacter xylinus. The artist will then use these bacteria to produce cellulose, creating a material that, in a way, contains the memories of a person.

Margherita Pevere Microbial cellulose - Edited
Pevere’s Book of Memories, where the recollections of people she met during Semina Aeternitatis are written on cellulose pages produced by bacteria

Investigating how information is lost over time, the artist has created her own writing medium by eroding the gelatine layer of photographic film using mold and her own gastric juice. Pevere employed these techniques in the Liquid Debris series, which explored the consequences of an earthquake in Italy during which the town of Gemona was almost completely destroyed.

The artist also collects biological reliques, such as animal limbs and plant specimens that, over time have been partially eaten by mice or infected with microorganisms. This leads Pevere to raise the question of who or what owns the authorship of the pieces. Is it the collector that shelved them years ago? Is it the organisms that modified the specimens and turned them into what they are today? Or is it her, bringing attention to the pieces, who infuses them with value?

Pevere bioart
Liquid debris (left) and Herbarium (right)

With the memories and reliques she collects along the way, Pevere works hard to engage the public with the implications of technology in the modern world. Next weekend, she will hold a performative workshop in Art Laboratory Berlin to invite the audience to explore how our perception of nature has evolved over history and how art can bring attention to the ethical debate that inevitably comes with science. You’ll also be able to catch up with her work in Switzerland at the Locarno Film Festival this August.

All images via Margherita Pevere


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